Romans 8 is one of the most beloved chapters in Scripture.
It speaks of the believer’s responsibility and ability to mortify sin.
It speaks of the believer’s adoption to become sons of God.
It speaks of the coming liberation from the sufferings of this world.
It speaks of the intercessory prayer of both the Spirit and the Son of God for believers.
It speaks of the goodness of God in all things, which He purposefully uses to conform us to Christ.
It speaks of the unwavering security of the believer in Christ — both in his legal standing and love before God.
It speaks of the inseparability of the believer from Christ’s love.
But most of all it speaks of the Spirit of God who is working to accomplish all these things (and more). In this final chapter on sanctification in Romans (the theme of chapters 5-8), the Spirit is mentioned by name 20x (vv. 2, 4, 5 [2x], 6, 9 [3x], 10, 11 [2x], 13–14, 15 [2x] 16, 23, 26 [2x], 27). The Spirit dominates this ultimate chapter on sanctification, because the Spirit dominates the process of sanctification. There is no sanctification without the work of the Spirit.
What is noteworthy in this chapter on the Spirit is that there is not a single imperative in the chapter. Not once does Paul command the believer to do anything so that the Spirit’s work is accomplished. Certainly there are some implications Paul expects us to draw from what he says, but he does not compel us to do anything.
In part, the lack of commands is a reminder that the Spirit-controlled life is not so much about what we do but about what we think. Paul informs us about the Spirit’s work in this chapter so that we will meditate on the Spirit and have our minds changed about who He is and what He does.
People who are of the flesh (unbelievers) act in fleshly ways because their minds are fleshly and think fleshly thoughts (v. 5). They pursue sinful desires. Or if they desire righteousness, their pursuit of God is through fleshly means — attempting to accomplish the righteousness of God with through man’s means and without God.
But the believer is controlled by the Spirit. Specifically, those who are “of the Spirit” (redeemed by the Spirit) have minds controlled by and set on the Spirit. They want to do spiritual, God-honoring acts and they do those things by focusing their thoughts on “the things of the Spirit” (v. 5b).
What are the things of the Spirit that the believer should set his mind? We set our minds on the things which the Spirit sets His mind. And the Spirit supremely sets His mind on Christ. When Jesus promised the coming of the Spirit to the disciples (Jn. 16:12-15), He told them that the Spirit would glorify Him and that the Spirit would disclose Christ to them (Jn. 16:14). The Spirit would teach and bring to remembrance the teachings of Christ (14:26) and He would testify about Christ (15:26). It was to the advantage of the disciples and all subsequent believers for Christ to ascend to Heaven, for then the Spirit would perpetually be with all believers (14:16-17; 16:7). The Spirit would be like the literal presence of Christ unceasingly with the believer, informing the believer of Christ and compelling them to act in Christ-exalting ways.
The Spirit is about the revelation and exaltation of Christ. That’s why the Apostle John would say that the determining factor about whether a spirit is from God is whether or not Christ is being revealed and honored (1 Jn. 4:2). The Spirit reveals Christ, teaches about Christ, points to Christ, and is consumed with the glory of Christ.
That, then, also tells us how to set our minds on the Spirit. If you want to have a mind set on the Spirit, have a mind that is controlled by and consumed by thoughts of Christ. Focus your attention on Christ. Fill your mind with His humiliation in the incarnation, with His perfection in fulfilling the demands of the Law, with His learned obedience in the flesh, with His Messiah-revealing words and works, with His grace towards the meek and lowly, with His justifying work on the cross for you, with His infinitely powerful resurrection from the grave, with His Adam-defeating victory over sin and death, with His acceptance by God in His ascension, with His finished work at the right hand of God, and with His intercessory prayers and defending legal work in Heaven for you right now.
To set your mind on the Spirit, set your mind on Christ and stop setting your mind on the flesh and the world. Stop filling your eye-gates with the world’s vision for you and start filling your eyes and heart with the vision of Christ.
To live by the Spirit, set your mind on Christ.